Frank Ocean's brave revelation

Hip-hop star Frank Ocean reveals a same-sex love, and challenges an often-homophobic culture to rethink its biases

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 5, 2012 6:05PM (EDT)

It's being dubbed as this week's second big coming out. But beyond the headlines that "Frank Ocean reveals he's gay," there's a marked difference between the Odd Future singer and songwriter's candid, heartfelt revelation about falling in love with another man and Anderson Cooper's long-awaited disclosure that "I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."

Ocean's frank discussion of his romantic history was no doubt fueled by speculation over the content of his upcoming solo debut "Channel Orange," which Def Jam is releasing later this month. Though he croons unambiguously on it that "You're running on my mind, boy," and has in the past sung that "I believe that marriage isn't between a man and woman but between love and love," there's a big difference between the blurry world of song lyrics and open conversation about one's private life. After all, this is a man who gained fame in a collective known for its brattily violent, misogynistic and "faggot"-heavy tone. What you shout from the stage isn't necessarily who you are at home.

But on his Tumblr Wednesday, Ocean decided to clear the air, writing eloquently about how "4 summers, ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too." For a man in the historically homophobic culture of the hip-hop world to reveal a same-sex relationship, to write in unequivocal terms about a passion that was like "being thrown off a cliff," to lament his unrequited feelings for someone whose "girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs," is new terrain. New, because it's a straightforward acknowledgment of all the intensity and heartbreak of a "first love," one for which Ocean says he's profoundly grateful, and a conscious refusal to put a name on it. In his post, Ocean never refers to himself as gay or bisexual; and he positions his ardor for the unnamed man within a narrative that includes "the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with."

Ocean may simply have felt, after detailing the significance of the life-changing relationship, that it was unnecessary to label himself. But it's incredibly meaningful that he wrote the story in the way that he did, because his particular way of telling it offers hope of illuminating the homophobes, particularly those in the machismo-heavy music world. In a culture that still unfortunately abounds in rampant squeamishness around what adults do in their bedrooms, Ocean is making a statement about love. About a love that came as a surprise.

We're all oriented – across a broad continuum, by the way – in our own directions. But nobody falls in love with a gender. We fall in love with a person. Ocean's story is an acknowledgment of that simple truth, of the integrity and the power of it. You don't like the fact that the person he fell in love with was a guy? Well, that's your problem now, isn't it?

Despite some expected knee-jerk homophobic spew from online commenters, response to Ocean's post so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator, whose Twitter bio -- no doubt in a nod to his openly lesbian DJ Syd tha Kid -- declares "I AM NOT A DYKE," tweeted supportively that "My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. Im A Toilet." Russell Simmons wrote an open letter praising Ocean's "courage and honesty," stating that it "gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear." And Jay-Z  has praised Ocean's "revelation about your fluid sexuality" as "full of love and grace."

Love and grace are not the province of any gender or orientation. They belong to all of us. If you're lucky enough to experience it – to let yourself experience it -- it may break your heart. But it'll liberate you forever. In his post, Ocean writes that "I don't know what happens now, but that's alrite," because, he says, "I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore. I feel like a free man."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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